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ZF debuts new truck automatic

July 16, 2008
NURBURGRING, Germany. There’s a new competitor entering the light-commercial automatic transmission arena—the ZF PowerLine

NURBURGRING, Germany. There’s a new competitor entering the light-commercial automatic transmission arena—the ZF PowerLine, a global product that will be built in the manufacturer’s Gainesville, GA, plant and offered initially in the first new trucks to be released in the U.S. by the Nissan Light Commercial Vehicles business unit in 2010.

According to ZF, the PowerLine is a 6-speed “powershift” [constant-torque] automatic transmission covering the torque range from 600 to 1000 newton-meters [approximately 442 to 737 lb-ft] and suitable for use with both diesel and gasoline engines.

“With the PowerLine,” said Wolfgang Vogel, member of the Board of Management of ZF and group executive of the Commercial Vehicle and Special Driveline Technology Div., “ZF closes the gap in the product portfolio between passenger car powershift transmissions and powershift transmissions for medium/heavy commercial vehicles. Thus, the ZF-PowerLine aims at light commercial vehicles and small buses as well as pickups.”

The ZF PowerLine will be manufactured, marketed and sold by ZF directly. A joint venture between ZF and ArvinMeritor—ZFMeritor—already markets the FreedomLine heavy-duty automated manual transmission in North America. ZF Group North American Operations, which supplies drivetrain and suspension components to North American automotive and truck OEMs, is based in Northville, MI. Its parent firm ZF Group, headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany, chose the legendary ‘Ring racetrack near Cologne as the setting last week to show off all its new products to invited members of the international trucking media.

Vogel said the new transmission is aimed at light commercial vehicles and buses [U.S. GVW Class 3-7] as well as the “professional-use pickups” common in the U.S. He said the PowerLine provides more driving comfort and better economy for the operator. “As the gear changes are performed automatically, the drivers can focus on their actual job,” Vogel noted. “This is an advantage particularly in the case of city deliveries. Compared with similar powershift transmissions for small commercial vehicles, the ZF PowerLine is considerably more economical.”

According to ZF, the PowerLine’s economic punch is provided by an “innovative torque converter that allows for early closing of the converter lock-up clutch.” The company said this means the fuel-intensive operating stages during which power transmission is affected hydraulically are shortened.

ZF also pointed out that the PowerLine has been designed for a commercial vehicle life cycle of 700,000 kilometers [435,0000 miles]. Ease of maintenance was also a design consideration-- transmission fluid should be replaced only every 120,000 kilometers [75,000 miles] and “oil filter changes are no longer necessary anyway with the new ZF PowerLine.”

The manufacturer also pitched the product to global OEMs, pointing out that by weighing only 140 kilograms [308 lbs.] and having a length of approximately 650 mm [26 in.], the transmission is “very easy to install and integrate into the vehicle” and as “both the hydraulic control unit and the sensors are already integrated into the transmission, the complex and often error-prone fitting of wiring and hoses becomes obsolete.”

A quick spin on the track with an American-built mid-range flatbed truck piled high with bales of German hay showed its PowerLine transmission to be a smooth-shifter. ZF engineers on hand noted the PowerLine was developed to compete directly with the Allison 1000/2000 Series as well as the Aisin automatics found in many light commercial trucks now sold in North America.

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